Culture War Dispatches

from a Progressive People's Republic

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Moral of Fort Hood: watch out for those Christians

The Globe’s willful blindness toward Major Hasan’s ties to Islamic terrorism was disturbing. Today’s editorial “Welcome all faiths in uniform” (11/23/09) pushes the envelope of sanity; the lesson we are to learn from the Fort Hood massacre apparently is not a heightened awareness of the potential for violence from radicalized American Muslims. Rather we need to be on the watch for 1) “acts of intolerance” against Muslims and 2) “the proselytizing of service members by evangelical Christians.” When the media and General Casey communicate to the military that a “Team Jesus” banner in the locker room is a greater danger than a terrorist mass murderer in their midst, the result will be more murders of innocent people.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shut up, he explained

Globe letter writer A. Dutton believes that it is “well-known” that President Obama is “willing to listen to others…almost to a fault.” Is she referring to the man who told Obamacare critics, “The time for bickering is over”? Who said, “I don't want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them just to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don't mind cleaning up after them, but don't do a lot of talking.” When has the President ever listened to others?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Playground socialism

Steve Almond describes in the Globe how as a father he must teach his daughter to share the limited resources of the playground, and he concludes that playground rules about sharing have an “adult name: socialism.” What he describes however is not socialism but a benign monarchy, where a disinterested adult dictates behavior to his at times unruly subjects. A socialist playground would be one where a committee of children has the power to allocate swing and sandbox use. Utopians might imagine that such a place would be administered justly, and that the children’s central committee would not abuse its power. Those with a more realistic view of human nature would expect a re-enactment of Lord of the Flies.
Mr. Almond has it exactly backwards when he asserts that capitalism concentrates power among elites; resources do not redistribute themselves without human agency, which by necessity concentrates power in the hands of an elite that rarely can repulse the corruption of power.
The rare successful societies like Sweden that call themselves socialist are far outnumbered by socialism’s nightmarish failures: the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Cambodia, etc. Socialism is the road to serfdom.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hallelujah, it’s finally open!

RIght View:

“This new library is the community's gift to itself. Come enjoy what you have built!” -- Library Director Susan Flannery

By coincidence, the new Cambridge Main Library opened to the public on November 9, 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I visited the library to get a copy of Animal Farm to commemorate both events.

Entering the new “Glass” building has a very high wow factor. You could set up a high wire act in the main floor space. In a word, spectacular.

The modern library emphasizes its role as social center as much as quiet reading room. Whenever I visit the Watertown Library teen center it’s full of chattering teens, and the Cambridge architects have provided many public gathering places. The spaces are gorgeous--provided they are used to their full potential. It’s now the challenge of the library staff to justify our state-of-the-art 100-seat theatre two stories below ground by filling it with frequent events.

I imagined I would claim a cozy nook where I could curl up, but if you want cozy, you’re better off in the H.H. Richardson-inspired “Stone” building or in one of the branch libraries. Perhaps our homes fulfill the need for cozy spaces; we’re no longer escaping crowded tenement living to the quiet of a library.

What about the library’s cost? The final bill came in above $90 million or $900 a square foot for the 100,000 square foot building. Somehow the foxes guarding the henhouse allowed a 50% cost overrun above the 2006 estimate of $60 million. Is $900/sq. ft. expensive? Yes, it’s four and half times the average cost (around $200/sq. ft.) for college buildings in Boston in 2009, according to R.S. Means Construction Data.

The Chronicle quotes Councilor Ken Reeves, “it’s better than Newton’s library, which was the goal.” The Newton Free Library was completed in 1991 for $15.3 million, or $168 a square foot for its 91,000 square feet. Prices certainly have gone up since 1991, but 535 percent? Cambridge taxpayers should expect a better library for the money we spent, but is it better? I’m not sure how one would judge such a thing. Cambridge loses on one criterion: Newton has 578,000 volumes, Cambridge a mere 177,000. You do in fact sense this on walking in—great space, but where do they keep the books?

Was there ever any discussion of whether green LEED certification was worth the added cost? Using paint and non-toxic glues that don’t outgas volatile organic compounds is certainly worth the marginally higher cost for the materials. But did we spend money on non-essential items simply to be able to claim that we have a green building?

And even if the price is high, can we afford it? The price tag works out to $900 per Cambridge resident. For a family of four, that’s $3,600, or $180 a year over 20 years. Cambridge businesses will pick up part of the tab, and the State of Massachusetts kicked in $10 million. $180 a year isn’t enough by itself to bankrupt anyone. But then there’s that $120 million renovation of Rindge and Latin on the horizon. And Other Post Employment Benefits. Etc. Maybe it would have been wiser to buy the Ford Taurus, but the City Council bought the shiny new Mercedes, so we might as well take it for a drive.

We also have to pay to operate the place. The Main Branch budget is $5.5 million for FY2010, or $55 for every Cambridge resident. Not a bad deal, even for a small government conservative. Still, it’s worth pointing out that since 2008, the library budget has increased by $1.3 million, a rise of 32%. The increase is entirely in the “library-as-social-center” areas; while expenditures for Reference and Circulation (i.e., books) have remained flat, “Public Services” is up 90%, “Supportive Services” up 105% and “Computer tech services,” up 100%.

Which brings me to Animal Farm. The CPL has an amazing service that allows you to download audiobooks over the Internet, but after an hour on the Library website I had not downloaded a byte of Animal Farm. I went to the Reference desk for help where they told me they didn’t support Macintosh computers (not accurate). I was then told I was using the wrong browser (also incorrect—the wireless internet was down). In the end I gave up on the public option and paid $7.49 to Audiobooks. Did I mention—what a remarkable book!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Good old-fashioned freedom of speech

Steve Almond’s lack of self-awareness is truly staggering. On the one hand he seethes with ignorant rage and hatred for Rush Limbaugh and talk radio. His op-ed, with the snarky title, “Who’s afraid of big bad Fairness Doctrine” begins, “Of all the lies told by the pooh-bahs of talk radio…” and goes downhill from there. Other samples: “Talk radio hosts foment ignorant rage”; they are “extremists who broadcast inflammatory lies,” “fraudulent moralists” and “bullies.”

On the other hand Almond presents himself as an advocate of “good, old-fashioned freedom of speech.” The Fairness Doctrine simply seeks, he claims, “to force [talk radio hosts] to share their microphones with those who beg to differ, in reasoned tones, who recognize that the crises of any age warrant mature debate, not childish forms of denial.” (Exactly, I might add—when you “force” speech, it’s no longer free.)

I don’t see much “mature debate” is Steve Almond’s writing. But then again we shouldn’t expect much from the guy who quit his teaching job at Boston College when his protests failed to shut down the speech of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Sorry, Steve, someone who tries to shut up the people he disagrees with is a totalitarian, not a free speech advocate.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

MIT’s Lindzen: CO2 has little effect on climate

Cambridge Chronicle 11/5/09

These are trying times for global warming activists. Despite years of work, people don’t seem to be listening. The Pew Research Center reported last week that only 36% of Americans believe that man causes global warming—down from 47% a year ago.

Climate scientists haven’t been listening to the mantra about the science being “settled.” This just in: In the August 2009 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, MIT’s Richard Lindzen and Yang-Sang Choi cast doubt on the IPCC climate models by revealing that “climate sensitivity” to things like CO2 is far lower than previously thought, therefore that carbon dioxide likely has negligible effect on the climate. If true, the entire global warming edifice crumbles.

The vast majority of “peer reviewed” studies offered as evidence for anthropogenic global warming document a 150-year long warming trend that no one denies (the glaciers are melting!), without analyzing the causes of warming. Many studies simply analyze potential catastrophic effects. The National Wildlife Federation (cited by the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee) cautions: “As the United States warms another 4 to 11 degrees on average over the next century, we will have more extremely hot summer days.” You don’t say. This is a tautology, not evidence.

To top it off, despite decades of conferences, millions of frequent flyer miles logged by green politicians and thousands of pages of climate treaties, those pesky CO2 emissions keep going up.

Cambridge is in similar straits. Despite the passage of our Climate Protection Program in 2002 that strived to lower CO2 emissions by 20% below 1990 levels, city-wide CO2 emissions for the period 1990 to 2010 are projected to increase by 29%.
Talk about “protecting the climate” didn’t seem to get results, so the rhetoric has been ratcheted up a notch. According to the Cambridge City Council, the School Committee and alarmed citizens at a hearing in September, Cambridge now faces a “Climate Emergency.”

The Climate Emergency Policy Order 17 is an official document, passed in May 2009, “recogniz[ing] that there is a climate emergency” and requesting the City Manager “to direct the appropriate city departments to increase the City's responses to a scale proportionate to the emergency.”

So, one might ask, if fear of global warming mobilizes people to work toward more efficient energy use and a cleaner environment, what’s the harm?

For one, attacking carbon-based energy is an attack on prosperity. Until we have a realistic alternative (current U.S. energy breakdown: fossil fuels 86%; wind 0.3%; solar 0.08%) limiting fossil fuels will make the world poorer, which will affect the world’s poor disproportionately. Global warming activists unwittingly abet human suffering.

On a local level, the Climate Protection Plan “failed” because Cambridge attracted robust development, in particular a significant investment in the biotech sector. Cambridge prospered, city government is flush and business property taxes keep residential rates the lowest in greater Boston.

Councillor Marjorie Decker commented at the Climate Emergency hearing: “There is the opportunity for Cambridge to maybe look at stricter guidelines…I’m never worried that a developer is going to be afraid to come into Cambridge because there’s another developer right in line waiting to get in here.”

This might be true in boom years, but is this a good time for “stricter guidelines” based on an irrational fear of carbon dioxide?
Secondly, global warming legislation is an attack on freedom.

City Councillor Craig Kelley and School Committee Member Patty Nolan (Chronicle letter, 10/15/09) offered a list of actions to tackle the climate emergency: “discourage car use,” “avoid long distance travel,” “give up meat,” “promote composting toilets,” “mandate following energy audit recommendations” and “radically change our consumption patterns.”

It’s one thing to change behavior through education and persuasion. But I sense a mood of frustration at the Climate Emergency hearing, a feeling that we tried to make these suggestions voluntary and we failed, so it’s time to go further. John Pitkin of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association called for “bold” action by the City, warning that, “these actions are going to affect people…Very likely they would include regulations.” Keren Schlomy of Green Decade Cambridge urged the city to pursue “home rule petitions to get authority to take actions that it doesn’t have now.”

Is this where we are headed? Bans on long distance travel, like in the Soviet Union? Mandatory vegetarianism within city limits? It sounds farfetched, but British legislators have already proposed carbon ration cards, whereby Big Brother would monitor and limit carbon consumption. Under the Markey-Waxman Climate Bill, you have to pass an energy audit before the federal government allows you to sell your house.

I am alarmed, not by a climate catastrophe, but by the harm that might be done by well-intentioned people in the name of saving us from carbon dioxide.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Motivational speaker

Anita Dunn called Mao Zedong one of her "favorite political philosophers" and "one of the people I turn to most." Thomas Frank however believes Ms. Dunn is above reproach because she quoted "one of those Mao Zedong aphorisms that wouldn't look out of place on a motivational poster" ("Glenn Beck's Hotline to Nowhere, 11/4/09). By this logic we cannot criticize a neo-Nazi who loves Hitler because Hitler told children to eat their vegetables. What kind of moral cretin excuses a mass murderer because he once said something motivational?